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The Genographic Project: Traditional Knowledge and Population Genetics
Australian Indigenous Law Review (2007)
  • Matthew Rimmer, Australian National University College of Law
This article considers the debate over patent law, informed consent, and benefit-sharing in the context of biomedical research in respect of Indigenous communities. In particular, it focuses upon three key controversies over large-scale biology projects, involving Indigenous populations. These case studies are representative of the tensions between research organisations, Indigenous communities, and funding agencies. Section two considers the aims and origins of the Human Genome Diversity Project, and criticisms levelled against the venture by Indigenous peak bodies and anti-biotechnology groups, such as the Rural Advancement Foundation International. It examines the ways in which the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) grappled with questions of patent law, informed consent, and benefit sharing in relation to population genetics. Section three focuses upon the ongoing litigation in Tilousi v. Arizona State University, and the Havasupai Tribe v. Arizona State University. In this matter, the Havasupai tribe from the Grand Canyon in the United States brought legal action against the Arizona State University and its researchers for using genetic data for unauthorised purposes – namely, genetic research into schizophrenia, migration, and inbreeding. The litigation raises questions about informed consent, negligence, and larger matters of human rights. Section four explores the legal and ethical issues raised by the Genographic Project. It considers the aims and objectives of the venture, and the criticisms levelled against it by Indigenous communities, and anti-biotechnology groups. It examines the response of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to the Genographic Project. It charts the debate over the protection of traditional knowledge in various international fora. The conclusion recommends a number of measures to better regulate large-scale biology projects involving the participation of Indigenous communities.
  • Patent law,
  • informed consent,
  • benefit-sharing,
  • traditional knowledge,
  • Big Science projects,
  • Human Genome Diversity Project,
  • Arziona State University research on the Havasupai Tribe,
  • Genographic Project.
Publication Date
October, 2007
Citation Information
Matthew Rimmer. "The Genographic Project: Traditional Knowledge and Population Genetics" Australian Indigenous Law Review, 2007, 11 (2): 33-54.